If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Bill Seibel during the many years we’ve crossed paths from Wellesley’s ballfields to cocktail parties is that he can tell a story. He seemingly has an endless supply, with each more interesting or entertaining than the next. So it didn’t surprise me when he added “author” to his LinkedIn profile in announcing the launch of his first book, Press Go – Lessons Earned by a Serial Entrepreneur. He describes the launch as “intended to be a business book that’s fun to read.”
I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but I did shoot Bill a handful of questions to get a bit of background, a sneak peek of the book, and his advice for new grads.
If you’re interested in ordering a copy, and you live in Wellesley, Bill’s going to donate 100% of royalties from those sales until the end of May to Wellesley Friendly Aid.
By the way, the last time I formally interviewed Bill was 10 year ago when he was launching a company called Mobiquity with headquarters in Wellesley at the time.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I grew up in a coal mining town southwest of Pittsburgh. My grandfather was a coal miner, my father was a steelworker—and the 6 of us all lived together in a 2-bedroom company house. Almost everyone I knew as a child was either a steel worker or a coal miner. I was twelve years old when I first heard the word “entrepreneur.” At the time, my mother was competing in a weekly Pittsburgh Post-Gazette puzzle contest where the editors scrambled the letters of an occupation. I remember the contest’s final week. Sitting with my mother at the kitchen table, we opened the newspaper and saw “tuepenerernr” staring at us from the last page of the business section. “Entrepreneur,” she declared without hesitation. “What does an entrepreneur do?” I asked, not quite pronouncing it correctly. “They have an idea that they turn into a company and make millions of dollars doing it,” Mom replied. It was clear to me that entrepreneurship would be a better path than working in the coal mines or steel mills. But it wasn’t at all clear how I could get there.
What was your first startup, and how did that come about?
After grad school, I joined a Fortune 100 chemical and industrial gas company. I was there for 12 years, did very well, became Director of both Materials Management and Information Technology, and learned a lot. But I longed for a chance to make more impact on a business than an IT executive could have at [such a large] company. I hoped I’d find my passion in the world of startups and left to join McCormack & Dodge as general manager of one of their businesses. Everything was so different! And so much better! The energy, the passion for the corporate mission, the feeling that we could make
decisions and get things done, and of course the beer kegs in the lobby that were tapped at 6 p.m. every Thursday and Friday—it was just as the twelve-year-old “tuepenerernr” had pictured life at a startup!
My impression is that most of your startups are not household names. My guess is in business school you hear lots of case studies about well-known companies and that’s where all the focus is, but the reality is that most people wind up starting and working for companies less well known but that are successes in their own right. Any thoughts on this?
There are a lot of startups, and their track records are not very good. Only 1% ever get funded. Of that 1%, close to 90% die are become the walking dead, And only 1% become Unicorns–startups that reach a value of more than $1B. Of the 12 million companies launched in the US during the last twenty years, only 145 are unicorns. Although perhaps not household names, I’ve been blessed that I’ve played a role in startups that had an impact. McCormack & Dodge was a pioneer and the early leader in Enterprise Resource Planning Software (ERP), a field that became dominated by household names like SAP and Oracle. Index created a new industry when they launched Excelerator in 1984–the first PC- based computer-aided software engineering tool. It was named Software Product of the Year in 1987, and Index Technology went public in 1988. Cambridge Technology Partners created the fixed-price/fixed-timeframe consulting model, was named the #2 IPO in 1992, and reached a market cap of more than $5B. ZEFER followed in its footsteps until the market crash of 2000–growing to $136M revenue in only 18 months–the fastest growing professional services firm ever. That was followed by Demantra, a predictive analytics company that paved the way for the Sales and Operations Planning industry. Soon after we won the award for the top business turnaround in the United States we were acquired by Oracle. More recently, Mobiquity was named the fastest growing company in all of New England, New England’s Top Small Business and, my favorite, One of the 3 Coolest Technology Companies on the Planet! So, for me, it’s not about creating a “brand name.” I get a huge professional high from building something new and important. A company that provides significant values to the businesses, consumers and/or patients that it works with. A company that creates professional opportunities for employees that substantially contributes to their personal and career ambitions. And if the company can drive innovation and overturn conventional thinking by redefining an industry–that’s the biggest high a CEO can get!
Let’s localize this. What could Wellesley do to encourage more entrepreneurship in town, and how might that benefit the community?
If you look at what makes entrepreneurship flourish in the Silicon Valley, New York and yes, in Boston, it’s having a network of experienced entrepreneurs that are willing to help those that are contemplating, or just beginning their journey. A huge number of experienced and successful entrepreneurs live in Wellesley. I’d suggest organizing a platform that could bring those groups together. For example, at Mobiquity we worked with Wellesley High School students to help them explore their startup ideas. Their mentors enjoyed it and the students learned a lot.
Your book’s about your lessons learned as an entrepreneur: Can you sneak preview a couple?
The most important entrepreneurial lessons are life lessons as well. I’ll start with 7:
1. Always do the right thing. Even if the other party doesn’t.
2. Both in business and in life, the simpler plan is often better.
3. Don’t start a company unless it’s your passion. If you do what you love, success will follow.
4. The first step in doing something is believing you can do it. Never give up your dreams. The first step in achieving them is to believe that they’re possible.
5. Life, at times, will be a struggle. It takes courage to change directions—especially when things aren’t going too badly. Don’t be afraid to get out of your
comfort zone. The real measure of anyone’s ability to succeed is how good they are at executing Plan B—because Plan A seldom happens.
6. Make everyone feel special, and never let anyone down.
7. But my favorite advice came from a newspaper advertisement from none other than ABE Carpet Cleaners:
If you were chosen to give a commencement speech at a business school, what would you tell grads?
I’d tell them to not begin their careers by joining a startup. I benefited quite a lot from the training and developmental opportunities that I gained at the F100 company that I joined after I received my MBA. And the data supports that. The highest success rate for a new entrepreneur occurs for those in their 40’s and 50’s.